Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Soldiers in Africarmen. Picture:Joseph Bisat Marshall


Patrick Centre

Birmingham Hippodrome


BIZET’S opera Carmen tells the story of a promiscuous gypsy working in a cigarette factory who seduces soldiers of the native army.

In Africarmen, Bawren Tavaziva presents his interpretation of the well-known opera. In this striking and visceral production, Tavaziva sets his story in an oil rigging village in Africa showing village workers, soldiers and the tempting Carmen.

It is set against a backdrop of a small tribal town, overcome by an oil-hungry dictatorship, black gold of which this land is bountiful. Zimbabwean-born Tavaziva set the background using his own life experience, extensive research and a varied career of dance and choreography to highlight the stories of the oppressed and poor, while the rich take their unfair share.

The styles of Ballet and Contemporary African Dance are central to the performance piece. Tavaziva gives a clear link between his training and cultural influences within Africarmen. His choreography is unique and beautiful, which gives way to a wonderful narrative of telling a powerful story through dance.

From an audience’s perspective, we see beautiful examples of African dance perfectly intertwined with the strength and grace that also comes with ballet. This modern style gives the production the feeling that this kind of dance cannot be recreated elsewhere. With the addition of music composed by Fayyaz Virji, a tribal atmosphere takes us to the heart of Tavaziva’s village.

He creates a vibrant world that makes the narrative totally believable. His setting comes from a biographical place, in which he saw the plight of oil workers on a daily basis during childhood. Well-rounded research from dramaturge Chris Fogg gives a believable context and allows the dancers to create empathetic performances and characters that which the audience totally understand.

Joseph Bisat Marshall’s set and Sherry Coenen’s lighting design is also another layer to which we are transported into the fast-paced world of Africarmen.

Of course, the dancers are the defining element as to what makes this show exquisite. The company of six dancers lead the enticing narrative and make sure that the story remains strong as they perform Tavaziva’s wonderful choreography.

In scenes involving multiple characters, their sequences are a treat to watch. With super technique and images that capture the imagination, we are instantly transported to not only the places and setting, but the feeling that is captured within each particular scene.

Each dancer displays fantastically strong traits individually, for example, the role of Carmen, performed by Lisa Rowley, is strong and tempting, as is Theo Samsworth who plays Mhondiwa. It is when the company are together that we see truly fantastic scenes which ignite our imagination.

There are also completely dark natured scenes running throughout the piece. Although they may be difficult to absorb on the surface, Tavaziva and the company are mindful that the sequences of war overtaking the village are done in a tasteful and creative manner. This gives a hard-hitting punch, and allows us to think about the struggles that do happen daily.

Through Tavaziva’s beautifully creative production influenced by his own upbringing, he shows that Carmen is a timeless story. Although the influence of Africarmen remains Bizet’s, this production is something unique, and a privilege to watch. With the wonderful addition of a fantastic cast of performers, Africarmen is a great testament to Modern African Dance and Ballet.

Elizabeth Halpin


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